Since I started photographing wildlife, it has taught me a great amount of things that I try to implement, or at least be aware of, whenever I now get to sightings that make me reach for my camera.
A battled quite a bit in the beginning of the year as I was trying to find my Wildlife photography feet and style. Joining Wild Eye and working with Andrew, Gerry, and Jono was (and is) the absolute best. Information, guidance, advice, encouragement is always free-flowing from these gents, but I couldn’t help feeling absolutely daunted by their images, their creativity, their knowledge and so much more!
Having had studied photography and developed a certain style and vision, I thought (very naively) that I would walk in, shoot off some fabulous shots, and easily establish myself in a genre that I always wanted to be a part of.
Please note that I am not that arrogant to think that I would be taking ‘fabulous’ shots, but I did think and liked to presume that they would have been justifiable representations on why I was employed by Wild Eye.
Forward time to mid February where I joined the guys for a weekend of wildlife photography, and let’s just say that my dose of humble was pretty extreme as I fell off my high horse.
I would take a picture, look at it and think that it is pretty decent, look at what the guys took, and have my jaw drop in awe and, yes, i’m owning it, jealousy.
How on earth did they get that image! We are all sitting in the same vehicle, all looking at the same sighting, all cameras pointed at the same subject… and yet. And yet my image looked like a child’s scribble against a Salvador Dali painting. When the guys would ask to see what I had taken, I would squidge-over in my seat and grasp the camera to my chest and blurt out an uncertain “Nooo…”.
Think of Gollum with the Ring. Me = Gollum. Camera = Ring.
Don’t get me wrong. I got some images that I still really like and am proud of for my proper first wildlife shoot.
I had no idea how hard wildlife photography actually was! All those images I poured over since a child and thought ‘Ya, I could take this’ suddenly came back into my mind with a new realisation: it’s not just aim, focus and fire away!
That cheetah portrait that you looked at the other day (hypothetically)? Look at how the light catches in his eye, how the backgrounds melts away from him, how the use of a low-angle has given him the power that he physically portrays. This image was planned. Details, lighting, composition, perspective… all were taking into account by the photographer to create this image that I just looked at and thought was a simple capture.
I put aside what I knew. It definitely wasn’t helping me as I wasn’t letting the sightings, subjects, environment help me determine what kind of image I was aiming to take.
I wasn’t thinking fullstop.
So I needed to clear the way and build a new foundation for Penny Robartes Wildlife Photographer. I know my camera settings and functions and how they affect and image singularly and as a whole. Work from there.
Asking as many questions as I could think of at each given time, I started paying attention to all the advice, tips, information that Andrew and Gerry were giving me. I am still doing this and applying it all where I can.
With my images starting to take shape as I approached each new sighting with thoughts running in my mind, my creativity was able to flourish and explore in new ways and I was producing images that I wanted to share with the guys. I wanted them to see what I was trying to portray and get advice on how to nail it. I wanted to show them that their guidance was helping me become confident in my ability, helping me become confident as a wildlife photographer.
I want(ed) to show them that although some of my images are not worth giving a second glance at, there are those that are.
I am absolutely loving my growth and exploration.
So, what were the tips and advice that I received?
Here is a basic list (not in order of any sorts). Please add any tips you found that helped your photography!
Always Have You Camera Ready
It is incredibly painful to miss a great photographic opportunity because your camera is still snug in the bag or the settings are completely wrong. As soon as you sit in the vehicle, get your camera out and get your settings in order for you to get the right exposure. Keep taking test shots every once in a while to make sure your shutter speed and ISO are correct in order to give you the type of image you want.
Once you get to the sighting, all you have to do is bring your camera to your eye and shoot away. It is then easier to slightly adjust your settings rather than having to start from scratch and miss the shot!
Wild Dogs playing with each other. The interaction was a photographic delight. I didn’t change my settings from what they were in the early morning.
A pretty fantastic fail don’t you think?
What Story Are You Wanting To Tell?
Ask yourself why you are picking up your camera when you are at a scene. What about it do you want to capture and portray? This will help you construct your image and think about all the elements and technicalities that you need to implement in order to get the image you want.
Instead of wildly shooting away and hoping to get lucky, I have learned that thinking about what image you want to capture and then creating it for that vision will really improve your photographs!
At this sighting, there were 7 cubs and two adult females by a kill. I noticed this cub sitting by itself further away from the rest. The sweet innocence of it looking up and the tall grass emphasising it’s height, or lack of, was just too arresting.
I chose to use a portrait orientation and shallow depth of field to emphasis the cub’s height and vulnerability in the implied vastness of the environment. The portrait orientation also enabled me to emphasis its curiosity as there is ‘space’ for the cub to gaze up at.
Change Your Orientation
It is incredible to see how the reading of your image changes when you change your image from landscape to portrait and visa versa. It presents a completely different image as certain elements are included and excluded in the different orientations.
Which orientation to use? It depends on the story you want to present.
Use Leading Lines If And Where You Can
A powerful compositional guide, lines help direct the viewer’s eye to the focus point of your image. This also encourages the viewer’s gaze to move through your image and spend more time on it.
Leading lines can come in natural and artificial forms, from the slope of a hill, to roads etc. Anything that focuses the viewer’s eye and guides it to rest on another point in the image.
This lioness had other things on her mind as she turned and presented her back to us. Not really having paid much attention to the back of these cats before, my eye kept being drawn to the dark fur that ran along her spine to the top of her head. It created such a gentle ‘s’ shape to her face. Her position and the curve created kept my eye moving up and down the ‘s’.
Break Photographic Guidelines
Note the use of ‘guide’ instead of rules. There are no ‘rules’ in photography as this insinuates that they have to be applied to every image otherwise it is wrong/not a good image. These guidelines are noted as they do help enhance images and make them more pleasing to the eye. But if one always sticks to them for every image, you can really stunt your creativity, the power of the image, and how it is interpreted.
A rule that states ‘never shoot into the sun‘. The image above by Gerry is a prime example of how breaking the ‘rules’ can create authentic images.
Pay Attention To Lighting
The light at different times in the day have different colour casts and affects on the scene. It affects the mood of the image and can be used in multiple ways to create different images.
Photographing during midday generally creates very bright scenes with dark shadows. Your images will probably have more contrasting elements due to this. It can present the image as being quite harsh as the light is very direct and bright and doesn’t have a full colour spectrum like you get in the afternoon. Most animals also become less active during midday due to the heat. Therefore for more interesting shots, like interaction, movement etc, shooting during the mornings and afternoons are your better times.
The morning and afternoon light creates more dynamic images in terms of its fall on the subjects. Side lighting can be used to highlight the form of an animal, its texture of it fur etc, and its colour is much richer. There is less contrast between the shadows and highlight which enables texture to be captured within the light and dark areas.
This light is also great to create mood and depth to your image, such as the image below by Andrew.
We all know the old age ‘practise makes perfect’, and even when it is annoying to hear (or read), it’s most certainly true! How can you improve if you dont go out and shoot when ever you have the chance?
When I was at the Mara with Gerry and Jono during the Extended Great Migration Photo Safari, Gerry kept up the constant ‘Penny I can’t hear you taking photos’ whenever I had taken a pause or put my camera down.
After a while, and considering throwing the camera at him a couple of times, I kept taking pictures when the opportunity came. Even when I thought I had gotten what I could out of a scene, there is always more that you can take and play with.
Experimenting with different apertures, shutter speeds, framing, orientation, composition… changing one, a few, or all can create vastly different images and only further opens up your skills and creativity as you explore photography with your camera.
I now always try to get the most out of a sighting and play around with different settings, compositional elements, you name it! It also encourages me to look at the scene infront of me with fresh eyes and gets my photographic eye in shape and growing.
An image with eye contact will always pull a viewer to the image. When we talk to people, we look at their eyes (well, most of us at least). When we look at an animal, our eyes will automatically draw to their face and eyes. We connect through eye contact, so having an image where the animal’s eyes are in focus and there is contact will create a more powerful and engaging image.
Unless your intent is to portray an unhappy nature of a particular animal, say zebras fighting, try capture your subject when both of their ears are forward. This will prove to be a much more engaging image as it conveys interest and attention from the subject.
Make Sure Your Subject Is In Focus
Apart from the obvious and making sure you focus on the subject, I learnt a tip from Andrew and Gerry that I never knew about, even though I studied photography… This one tip to use in order to make sure that your subject is in focus and to avoid camera shake, is to make sure your shutter speed is at least 1/your focal length.
How fantastic is that!
And this I learnt when I first sat in the Digital Photography Course that Wild Eye runs throughout the year. And man oh man did I learn so much more about my camera, technical and artistic elements and more!
Don’t Stress. Have Fun. Stay Passionate!
Its amazing how by implementing advise given, exploring and challenging yourself to ‘see’ a sighting or subject in a new way, open your mind to new ideas and let your creativity flow, impacts and enhances your images. It helps you create something that further flames your passion for photography, nature and wildlife.